Newcastle Are Good But Not Yet Great
Since 2013, the Knights have featured in just the one finals series. Yep, just the ONE! In the Preliminary Final, they were whopped 40-14 by the Roosters. Since then they have finished 12th, 16th, 16th, 16th, 11th and 11th. Pretty poor results from a side that has produced absolute legends of the game such as Andrew Johns, Paul Harrigan and more recently the likes of Danny Buderus and Kurt Gidley to name a few.
Yet somehow, many people had the Knights as a Top Four team this season. Something that simply blows my mind and continues to do so up until this point in the season. I do not understand it and will now debunk that controversial opinion. Kaylyn Ponga, a failure to beat the top dogs of the game and their youth are just three of the reasons they won’t finish inside of the Top Four this season (at the time of writing they are just a win off the fourth spot).
A massive over-reliance on Kaylyn Ponga
According to the Rugby League Live App, Newcastle has scored 30 tries from their 7 matches played so far this campaign. Ponga has scored 3 and assisted 3. This means he’s had a direct hand in one-fifth of the Knights total tries this season. And the year before that, as the Knights won just 10/24 games, he scored 9 and assisted on 11.
Whilst pushing aside the stats for a second, for a 22-year-old who has achieved absolutely nothing in the game as of yet, not even a single Top Eight appearance! He reportedly takes up a significant chunk of his side’s salary cap.
And when you watch the Knights play, it usually is up to Ponga to create something out of nothing if they are playing a bit lethargically or need something or someone to create a spark. Other players can do that for Newcastle, but the onus and the responsibility have so far been thrust on Ponga. Despite his talent, being the age that he is, he needs some of his team-mates to step up to the plate more and help him out. Backing this up is the fact that he’s averaging just under 193m per game so far this season. Top Four sides have a hell of a lot more balance to them than what Newcastle currently has.
The humiliation they’ve suffered against the best sides
This season they lost to Melbourne 26-12 after being down 18-0. They gave away 5 penalties to the Storm’s 3, and they leaked 12 errors to the opposition’s 6. Prior to that, their last game against Craig Bellamy’s men was a 34-4 defeat in which they leaked 6 tries to 1. It’s well known that they’ve had a notoriously bad history against Melbourne, a constant Top Four team. They also suffer constantly against both Sydney and Manly, another two perennial final four threats.
In RD18 of last year, the Roosters thrashed them to the tune of 48 points to 10. The Knights scored just 2 tries to the Roosters’ 8! Sydney made 2014 meters in comparison to Newcastle’s 1375 meters. A significant difference. This match significantly highlighted the difference between them (the Knights) and a Top Four team (the Roosters).
Last year also, they lost both their games to Manly. First, it was 26-18 and then it was 30-6. They could not topple the Sea Eagles, even just once! In the 30-6 defeat, they scored their only try of the game in the 30th minute, via guess who? Yep, Ponga. Manly owned 55% possession of the ball and missed just 16 tackles. The Knights had just 45% of it and missed 32. This was again a match that significantly highlighted the gulf between them and being a Top Four squad. If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best and Newcastle just cannot or do not do that enough consistently.
They are too damn young
When we look at the Top Four teams from last season, the list went:
1. Melbourne Storm
2. Sydney Roosters
3. South Sydney Rabbitohs
4. Canberra Raiders
Cameron Smith. The player who has done it all and has won it all was the man leading the line for the Storm’s last campaign. And he was ably backed up by a strong veteran presence which included Addo-Carr and Vunivalu.
Sydney was led by Tedesco, a man who is arguably the best fullback in the world at the moment (and when done, maybe ever). Whilst Cordner, Friend and Manu were also there. Keary had previously won a premiership and Cronk was aiming for his third straight at the time (which he got).
Souths had a strong Burgess presence, incumbent NSW player Reynolds and the constant-attacking knowledge of Johnston.
And the Raiders were boosted by an incredibly strong and versatile forward pack, with the likes of Wighton and Croker leading from the back.
Now when you asses Newcastle’s current team, Ponga is their best player at 22. And Klemmer whilst a strong player within the side is one of the few who actually has some big-game experience, playing well week in, week out. Pearce can be rather inconsistent. Buher is always injured. And SKD simply isn’t that good enough any more and neither is Guerra. And looking at major parts of their team, Best is 18, Randall is 24, Brailey is 24, Woolford is 23, Tuala is 21, Shibasaki is 21 and Saulo is 21 do I need to continue?
Most Top Four sides usually have a more experienced playing side along with those who still play near the top level of the game. That is something that the Knights severely lack at this point in time.
This just isn’t the Knights’ year to make the Top Four, unfortunately. Perhaps next year with another season under their new coach and a few changes to the playing side, they could do it. But at the moment, there are too many good sides performing consistently.
The Knights are currently a good, but not a great team. In due course, they will become a great side, just not this campaign.